Needed: A Lord of Discipline

Photo: Kenny Harrison

I may be living my dream of playing guitar, but once in a while a little nightmare awakens me, rudely reminding me that a viable approach to improving my musical performance and guitar technique must be directly dependent on discipline and the rigors of deliberate practice. There is no other way to progress beyond mediocrity in any serious field of study without discipline. I’m in my 28th month of music lessons, and it’s becoming crystal clear to me that, unless I dig deeper for more discipline and reserve more time for deliberate practice, I’m going to appear as mediocre to my music sensei. There’s no doubt that my musical journey is headed for a rough patch up aways from this plateau that I’ve been content with for a few months, but quite frankly, it’s boring maintaining my current level of musicianship. I think it’s time to lace up my boots, pack up my gear, and head into that rough patch that lies ahead, and I certainly don’t want to lose face in front of Andrew.

Andrew Wright
Andrew Wright

There’s rarely a day that I forego practice, and when I do it’s usually justified by an urgent matter that requires my attention or an illness that keeps me in bed. With regard to calling in sick, so to speak: If I can make it to the bathroom or kitchen, then I can make it to my practice room. Illness aside, something must be pretty damn urgent to keep me from picking up a guitar. I have the discipline to practice everyday, but of late it’s only been enough to maintain my status quo. I know what needs to be done in order to musically advance, and it’s going to test my resolve and push me out of my comfort zone.

Old foes whom I thought faded away have returned to annoy me, placing negative thoughts inside my head or putting another brick into the wall. I’ve dealt with these evil brain suckers before, but it feels like they’ve brought with them reinforcements. Ah, reinforcements? That tells me I’ve become stronger and more determined to not yield to mediocrity, to not feel content playing on a musical plateau. Gumption to enter the practice room, run through scales and arpeggios, play a few songs, and hone a piece that’s been under development for several weeks or a few months is no longer enough.

Not only is it time to formulate a new strategy to improve my musicianship, it’s also time to play at different positions along the fretboard. Sadly, I’ve become too complacent playing open position. In my defense, I’ve been practicing scales and arpeggios up and down the fretboard since the early months, but it’s only been a few months since I began to play targeted new material at the 7th position. I’m currently working through a Jazz fake book, and it’s obvious that the tunes beg to be played higher up the registers. In someways it feels like I’m playing from square one, such as when I see a C note my index finger wants to press down on the B string. I continue to play in the open position material I’ve mastered enough to be included into my repertoire, but now learn new material at the 7th. My objective is to circumvent lapsing again into a sense of complacency. I don’t need to fight my muscle memory, I just need to adapt to new fingerings and geometry.

I kind of, sort of gotten lazy with respect to deliberate practice, I’ve let the music theory books get dusty, and I’ve grown weary of my stay on this plateau. I’m not willing to give in to the temptation of persuading myself to be content with where I’m at musically. I know what needs to be done, but I’ll have to take procrastination out with the trash tomorrow. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this at a later time, but in the meantime I’ve got some planning to do.


  1. Alexandra says:

    MaYbe you need to come at the whole thing from a new angle or with a different perspective. Sit down and ask yourself why, what, how, where and when…what’s your goal and why you think you need to achieve it. Sometime you can surprise yourself with the answer(s).

    This wisdom is brought to you by the letter A.

    • Kenny says:

      I always appreciate wisdom, especially when it travels down from the friendly north, and such wisdom needs to be cherished and pondered like a Zen koan. I must ruminate. 🙂

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